Humanists raise concern about blasphemy-accused persecution

Humanist Society Scotland has raised the concern regarding the case of Professor Jama Ahmed to the Scottish Government. This comes as Humanists International launched a campaign to bring attention to the Somali human rights defender’s plight. Humanist Society Scotland has also once again highlighted the dangers that Blasphemy laws create around the world and reiterated calls for the Scottish Government to scrap Scotland’s out-dated common law offence on blasphemy.

Mahmoud Jama Ahmed

Last year the University of Hargeisa professor published a Facebook post questioning if praying to God for rain during a drought was effective and called on the Somali government to use a more scientific approach.

He was subsequently arrested and sentenced to two years in prison for “blasphemy”. Prosecutors appealed in a bid to have his sentence increased to the death penalty. After ten months in prison, Mahmoud received a presidential pardon but remained suspended from his University work.

However, this year has seen an increase in death threats orchestrated by a local Imam who has publically called for his death during Friday prayers. Killing him, according to Imam Adam Sunnah would be justified given he is an apostate and all apostates must be killed even if they repent.

In a letter to the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs Mike Russell, the Humanist Society Scotland has asked the Govenment to raise concerns regarding Mahmoud’s safety with the UK Foreign Office and in any dealing with Somali government officials. In addition, the letter calls for swift action to remove Scotland’s common-law offence against Blasphemy.

Commenting on the Scottish campaign Chief Executive Fraser Sutherland said,

Fraser Sutherland

“Mahmoud’s case is sadly yet another example of the dangerous and devastating impacts that Blasphemy Laws have on humanists, free-thinkers and religious minorities across the world. Scotland has its own role to play in helping bring about the ending of such persecution by scrapping its own common law offence on Blasphemy.

“The Scottish Government rightly seeks to be a world leader on Human Rights. It therefore needs to take a simple, but nonetheless symbolic step in promoting Freedom of Thought, Belief and Religion. Blasphemy laws are, by their very nature, the complete antitheses of this Human Right.”

Supporters of scrapping Scotland’s Blasphemy Law can add their support online by clicking here.

Full detail of Mahmoud’s case can be read at Humanists International website.

Humanist Society Scotland End Blasphemy Law Campaign – The story so far:

2015 – The International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws is launched, with Humanist Society Scotland a founding partner.

February 2016 – Religion in Scots Law report by academics at University of Glasgow, funded by Humanist Society Scotland, reveals the legal detail and history of the Scottish common law offence of Blasphemy

December 2016 – Humanist Society Scotland call on the Scottish Government to show ‘moral leadership’ and scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy law in light of Humanists Internationals report on persecution of Humanists around the world through Blasphemy laws

July 2017 – The Scottish Government’s Justice Secretary responds to correspondence from a Humanist Society Scotland member saying they have “no plans” to scrap the law.

August 2017 – Humanist Society Scotland gather public support through a petition calling on politicians to scrap the outdated laws.

September 2017 – Humanist Society Scotland submit evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee of how Blasphemy laws are used around the world to persecute Humanists and minority faith groups. The Committee agree to write to the Scottish Government to ask them to consider scrapping the law.

December 2018 – Humanist Society Scotland implore MSPs to scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy law at the annual Humanist Yuletide event in the Scottish Parliament.

January 2018 – The Edinburgh Group of Humanist Society Scotland arrange a protest against Blasphemy laws around the world on the spot where student Thomas Aikenhead was hanged for blasphemy in Edinburgh 321 years previously.

March 2018 – UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of Religion and Belief calls for the scrapping of blasphemy laws and states they are not compatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by the UK in 1968.

March 2018 – Scrapping Scotland’s Blasphemy Law becomes official SNP party policy. 

May 2018 – Scottish Parliament hears from Humanist campaigners on need to end Scotland’s Blasphemy law.

October 2018 – Ireland votes in a referendum to scrap Blasphemy law after Humanist Society Scotland distinguished support Stephen Fry is investigated by police for comments he made on a TV show.

November 2018 – Scottish Government launch consultation on reforming Hate Crime laws which fails to propose to scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy law as suggested by campaigners. Humanist Society Scotland call the failure to act a ‘stain on Scotland’s Human Rights record’.

December 2018 – Canada repeals it’s Blasphemy law.

February 2019 – Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye and Have I Got News For You panellist, and Nick Newman, scriptwriter and cartoonist add their support to the Humanist Society campaign while touring a play they had written to Scotland.

March 2019 – The Church of Scotland add their support to the scrapping of Scotland’s Blasphemy law.

March 2019 – New Zealand becomes the seventh country since 2015 to scrap its Blasphemy law.

April 2019 – Scottish Government note they have received calls to scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy law as part of their consultation on Hate Crime and are actively considering the matter.

March 2020 – Detail on the forthcoming Hate Crime legislation is still to be published by the Scottish Government and no firm commitment has been made to scrap the Blasphemy common-law offense.


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